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New coaches limit damage in recruiting

February 2, 2010
From AP and Breeze staff reports

For Brian Kelly, Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley, the first priority at their new jobs was just keeping it together.

Keeping together the recruiting class, that is.

Coaching changes at Notre Dame, Southern California and Tennessee have added intrigue to the end of the recruiting season as three of the nation's marquee programs have scrambled to hold onto their blue chippers.

"This is maybe the most suspenseful recruiting season in the 12-plus years I have been doing it," said Jeremy Crabtree, national recruiting editor for

The end is near, however. National signing day is Wednesday.

Locally, seven seniors who have announced their plans will sign their national letters at school gatherings - Eric Mitchell (Mississippi) at Mariner; Joseph Byrd (Arkansas) at Ida Baker; Tre Boston (North Carolina) at North Fort Myers; and Jeremy Davis (Miami), Jaylen Watkins (Florida), Daniel Koenig (Oklahoma State) and Spencer Boyd (Notre Dame) at Cape Coral. Boyd already is enrolled and attending classes at Notre Dame.

Kelly became coach of the Fighting Irish last December in what was expected to be the most dramatic hire in college football after the 2009 season.

The timing of Notre Dame's switch from Charlie Weis to Kelly was fairly typical, giving Kelly about eight weeks to put his stamp on a class that for the most part will be Weis' last mark on the Fighting Irish.

Kelly's task was to quickly establish relationships with players who had spent months getting to know Notre Dame football through Weis and his staff.

"That's probably the most difficult part," said Kelly, who was recruiting before he even had a staff in place.

Kelly and the Irish lost the highest-rated player who had given Weis a nonbinding verbal commitment. Defensive end Chris Martin of Aurora, Colo., is now expected to sign with California. Another highly touted defensive end, Blake Lueders from Zionsville, Ind., switched his commitment from Notre Dame to Stanford.

Lueders said the firing of Weis was a factor in his decision to change his commitment to Stanford, but not the sole reason.

"It's tough when you're recruited by one staff and you build a relationship with them and then a completely new staff comes in and tries to act as if nothing happened," Lueders said. "It's hard to build a relationship in such a short time."

Quarterback Andrew Hendrix of Moeller High School in Cincinnati reconsidered his commitment to Notre Dame after Weis was fired, took a visit to Florida, but ultimately stuck with the Fighting Irish.

While Weis landed several recruiting classes that were ranked in the top 10 nationally by the experts in recent years, Notre Dame's first post-Weis class is poised to receive a ranking of somewhere from 15-25.

For Notre Dame fans worried about their new coach's ability to lure top talent to South Bend, Crabtree preaches patience.

"We cannot judge Brian Kelly on what he did in the last month and a half," Crabtree said. "Recruiting is a year-round process."

If Kelly started the recruiting race late, then Kiffin and Dooley were practically running with refrigerators on their backs. Each took over less than a month before signing day.

Before Pete Carroll left USC for the NFL he had already lined up verbal commitments from a group of prospects that was short on numbers but long on talent.

"The first thing Lane had to do is to convince them that just because you're disappointed that Pete Carroll is gone, there's still reason for you to be here," said Allen Wallace, the California-based national recruiting editor for and SuperPrep magazine.



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